Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Buatier DeKolta The Master of Illusion

He was born Joseph Buatier on November 18,1847 in Lyon France. And before I get too far, I know I am probably pronouncing the name wrong. Please forgive me as I am not certain as to the actual pronunciation. You’ll have to go with my version for now. One thing you’ll notice is his last name is not DeKolta. More on that later.

We start with his Origin Story. How did get get interested in magic? Well, at the early age of 6 years old he was chosen to be a helper in a magic show of a traveling magician. And that was all she wrote. From that point on, he was hooked. A short time later he received his first magic book as a birthday present. And he set out to learn everything in the book, all the sleights, all the tricks, how all the effects worked. Now there is but one small problem with the story and that is his wife. She wrote a manuscript which gives the same story but she claimed he was 18 at the time, not 6. 

But his parents desire was for him to go into the priesthood. In fact, they wished this for all three of their boys. But in the end, only the youngest, Auguste, would become a priest. Buatier, upon graduation had his sights on something else, and it wasn’t magic. He actually became interested in art and painting by meeting painter, Elie Laurent. According to the book, Buatier DeKolta Genuis of Illusion by Peter Warlock, Buatier spent two years away from magic and just painted. 

He had gotten himself a simple job as a waiter when one night along came a Hungarian impresario by the name of Julius De Kolta. Buatier was not just waiting tables, he was doing strolling magic, as he went from table to table and Julius saw this and was captivated. He suggested to Buatier, that he could make a fortune if he did this very same thing in Europe, and with Julius De Kolta acting as his manager. So now you get a glimmer of where that name came from. I should mention this now, De Kolta was his manager, and also a bit of a con name, more on that later.

It’s been suggested that Buatier was possibly bi-lingual, so his abilitiy to connect with english, spanish, and french speaking audiences was heightened. The year was 1870, and he first played in Geneva Switzerland and upon finishing there, went to Rome.  IT was not all sunshine and roses however. Because his act was primarily card tricks, he was playing Inns and cafes, and the occasional private engagement. 

Once again, according to his Buatier’s wife’s manuscript, while in Rome, Buatier ran into a priest friend from his old Seminary. The two spoke and Buatier revealed that his time on the road had been anything but successful. He was on the verge of giving up. But it seemed providence was now shining upon him as the Priest arranged for Buatier to give a performance before very important representatives of the Roman Catholic Church. This event, as Buatier would later admit, was the turning point. Everything changed now. This led him to give some performances all around Rome at the finest theatres. 

In 1873, he would add a piece of apparatus, something of his own invention. A new routine called La Cage Eclipse. It was an early version of what We would come to know it as The Vanishing Birdcage. To begin with a small rectangular bird and cage was held with one hand. Then he would grab the cage with the other hand holding it by the two sides. With no covering at all, he would give an upward toss and the cage simply vanished. He then walked off stage and a second later came back with the cage and bird, safe and sound. Later in 1875, the routine would be called The Flying Cage. In the 1880s, Buatier created a new version of his Flying Cage and this time it used a large oblong cage as opposed to the square one. The effect was essentially the same!

I should mention it now, DeKolta never sold his Vanishing Birdcage to anyone. Yet it became a sensation all over the Globe. In Ep 8 of the podcast, I share with you how the Vanishing Birdcage made it’s way to the United States in 1875 via Harry Kellar. A short time later, Robert Heller wrote to french magic dealer Charles DeVere and ordered a cage. Eventually, it would become a staple in the acts of many magicians like Kellar, Servais Le Roy, Fred Keating, FuManchu, John Booth, Frakson, Tommy Wonder, The Blackstone’s Sr and Jr, Billy McComb, Walter Blaney, Jonathan Pendragon and a host of other performers. A trick invented in in the 19th Century is still popular today in the 21st. Buatier did sell the secret of the cage to a magic dealer in Holland, as times where bad and money was not coming in with just performing, but he did not sell an actual cage with it.

In 1875, Buatier made his debut at Egyptian Hall in London. He was brought in by Dr. Lynn. His engagement was for one night. And this was basically so Dr. Lynn could see how Buatier performed before an audience. Dr. Lynn was duly impressed, as were the London audiences, so they worked out a schedule where the two would alternate perofrmances.  And if I might stop for just a moment to explain something that I previously was not aware of. Apparently, Egyptian Hall, was divided between Dr. Lynn and Maskelyne and Cooke. Lynn having exclusive use of the large hall, while Maskelyne & Cooke had a drawing room and small hall. But in July of 1875, Dr. Lynn left and the establishment was open to lease again. So this time Maskeylne and Cooke jumped at it, and the entire Egyptian Hall was theres. I had no idea of this bit of drama. Buatier, began working for M&C at Egyptian Hall in August. His act appears to be mainly parlor sized magic, along with the Vanishing Birdcage. 

Speaking of inventions, De Kolta’s wife suggests in her short manuscript on her husband, that he never purchased a magic trick. But instead, invented and built everything he ever used. This is not exactly accurate. In regards to magic tricks, it’s likely everything was his invention. But he did purchase a copy of the automaton Psycho, who was called Altotas in De Kolta’s show, so here is an example of something he did not build or create. And it’s also something that irritated John Nevil Maskelyne greatly. 

Now back to the tour, at some point, Joseph Buatier, who had been performing as Dr. De Buatier, altered his name and became simply Buatier. Though, I think he did the name change after he fired his manager. The name fits him well, and along with his completely original repertoire made him one unforgettable artist.

If we take a look at some of his effects, I think you’ll be surprised. One of the earliest was his version of The Rising Cards. You can find this in Tarbell 2, for the curious. But in effect, three cards are chosen and shuffled in a deck. The deck then placed into a glass which is sat on a chair. At the command of the performer, all the cards start jumping from the glass creating a fountain like effect. At the end, the three chosen cards are found to remain in the glass, all others have flown out at the magicians command. It’s a very beautiful and offbeat effect. And it may have been an invention that was also invented by someone else years before. I doubt DeKolta had knowledge of this. In the Feb 1903 Mahatma, they mention the wonderful mystery that DeKoltas trick creates and that in 1887, a juvinelle magician by the name Sig Fritzini presented the same trick. A case of independent creation, or is that independent duplication?

There is an effect that is only briefly touched upon in the Genius of Illusion book. It is De Kolta’s Diminishing and then Expanding Cards. The way it is written, he takes a deck of cards and says he is going to make them the proper size for ladies. And then simply shuffling them over and over they begin to shrink in size as he is shuffling then he holds them up to show that the cards have shrunk in size! Next he says he is going to make them suitable for gentleman, and this time by shuffling the cards, they not only grow, but they continue to grow into a size that is astonishing to say the least. At least twice the size or more than regular playing cards size. 

His sleight of hand skills must have been impecable. One of his features was something he called “The Five Coins” Yes, there is a rousing title if ever there was one, lol. The five coins is the coin flourish known as The Coin Star. It appears to predate the T. Nelson Downs Coin Star.
Now lets skip to 1878. Buatier has returned to France, Paris to be exact. For whatever reason, he changes his name slightly, and takes the last name of his somewhat worthless manager, DeKolta. Now he is Buatier DeKolta.  And on this stay in Paris he creates another one of his masterpieces, The Flowers from Cone, or the most basic simplistic title, The Spring Flowers. I honestly think this was close to a miracle in his hands, and in the hands of the earliest practitioners. Rolling up a paper into an empty cone, the magician suddenly causes the cone to fill with flowers, over and over and they continue to appear and are dropped into an open umbrella held by an assistant. One of the secret techniques used would later be adopted by dove workers, so in a way, DeKotla gave birth to that genre. I’m also fairly confident that the early Spring Flowers were made in life-like flower colors, and not the neon colors that are often seen today.  Sadly, many  a magic prop was ruined by good intentioned but poorly thought out design choices (think of all the poorly painted apparatus magic of the 20th century). 

DeKolta now begins to set his sights on larger effects. One interesting illusion was called Le Cocoon, which I believe he debuted in December of 1885. Here is a very artistic piece, a departure from what anyone was doing in the world of magic at the time. It began simply enough, with a paper framework being hung in the air. The magician would draw the outline of a silkworm and suddenly the paper burst open and there was a large cocoon, not a picture of a cocoon, but a very large cocoon which would be picked up and placed upon a stool. As the cocoon is placed on the stool, the realistic cocoon, bursts open and out comes a woman dressed as a moth or butterfly. But tell me, am i the ONLY one who thought of the ALIEN bursting forth from a cocoon ala Ridley Scott’s famous movie???Seriously, though, this is a very complicated illusion in methodology. The patent for this illusion appears in the book, Buatier DeKolta Genius of Illusion by Peter Warlock. It love the poetic imagery with the silkworm, cocoon and moth/butterfly. 
I think it would make a wonderful illusion today, though with an altered method.

Now, we come to 1886. DeKolta was in St. Petersburg Russia and would debut a game changing illusion. To begin with, he would take a sheet of newspaper and place it upon the stage. The purpose of this was to discount any thought of a trapdoor. Then a chair was placed on top of the newspaper. DeKolta’s assistant then came and sat down on the chair and a thin sheet was placed over her entire body. You could make out the outline of her head, shoulders and knees. No sooner was the sheet placed over her, it was suddenly whisked away. In the process, the lady vanished. Her outline was seen right up until the moment the cloth was taken away. OH, and to add another element to the mystery, the cloth that covered her body ALSO vanished!!!

The illusion known as The Vanishing Lady would become an instant hit. John Nevil Maskelyne wanted it for Egyptian Hall, but DeKolta couldn’t get there soon enough. So they made arrangements for Charles Bertram to present the illusion. Interestingly, Bertram and DeKotla actually resemble each other. 

I was excited to find a newspaper ad for DeKolta in America presenting the Vanishing Lady in 1886, however, before I could contemplate the timing, I found in the Genius of Illusion book, a write up on the very same article. Apparently, this person was not DeKolta, in fact, the performers name is not given. What it says is “The first authorized performance in this city of M. Buatier DeKolta’s trick entitled The Vanishing Lady”. Also mentioned in the book, was that Alexander Herrmann was the first famous magician in America to present the effect.

Soon the Vanishing lady would be in a lot of acts. Did DeKolta get any compensation for this?? Other than the Charles Bertram appearance at Egyptian Hall, and his work with Maskelyne, he got nothing as far as I know. The Vanishing Lady was so popular at one point that the method became common knowledge having been exposed numerous times, both in books and in magazines. Probably only Richardi Jr. kept presenting the illusion right up until his death in the 1980s. His version was nothing short of a miracle. After the girl had been covered, a steamer trunk on a tall platform was rolled out. The trunk was tilted down to show it empty, then it was closed and put upright. Richard walked over to the lady, pulled the cloth away and she vanished! And then a second later the same cloth was whisked by the empty trunk and the vanished lady was now found inside the trunk!!!!!!

David Copperfield would produce one of the most stunning examples of the Vanishing Lady. His routine was a vignette, a scene from an attic. The magician reminiced over a picture of an old girlfriend and suddenly she appears. They interact and at the end, she climbs up on a table, where a chair is sitting. She sits in the chair and covers herself with a cloth, almost in a type of hide and seek game. When Copperfield spots her, he steps up onto the table pulls away the cloth and the woman is gone. It’s a powerful presentation, filled with emotion and romance.

Now, I must bring up a device that DeKolta invented and as is my rule not to reveal secrets, I shall be rather stealthy in my description. The device is called The Cache, it is used along with another device called a pull. I always thought DeKolta invented the Pull, but actually I believe his contribution was The Cache which allowed for the barehanded vanish of scarves and handkerchiefs. Another tool of the 19th Century conjurer, that over time as fallen out of favor. 
Just as a side note, my best friend, Bobby Dymond, who passed away a couple years ago was a master of this device. He was fairly new to magic and had seen magicians at magic shops make small silk scarves vanish and then reappear. He asked me if it was possible to make something vanish that was larger than the tiny 6 inch square scarf. I pointed him towards the modernized version of DeKolta’s device. I had used one so I knew the impact. I taught my friend Bobby who learned it so well, he was fooling everyone with it. Now, here is the ultimate.
He would use this while doing walk around magic. He’d borrow a dollar bill. Show his hands empty. Take the bill and push it into his fist. Sometimes, he’d even let them push it into his fist. Then without any unusual movements, he’d open his hands and the bill was gone. People were often so amazed, they’d let him keep the money because it was such a good trick. He told me one day he made over $100 in the afternoon, just doing that trick over and over. I honestly, thought he was exaggerating, but later I saw him do that very thing, again, and again and again. People were so surprised, that he’d make dollar after dollar after dollar vanish. 

Ok, let’s get back to DeKolta. One of his lesser known illusions was called The Magic Carpet. This was a large rug, an assistant would stand in the center of the rug, and then he and another assistant would pick up the corners of the carpet and raise it up so as to obscure the view of the person inside the folds. They would shake the carpet a bit and then drop it and the person was gone! Them vanished person would reappear in the audience. 

In regards to his personal life, Buatier DeKolta married Alice Mumford, likely some time in the mid 1880s. She had previously been a musician, so they likely met in the theatre where they both were performing.  In the book, The Old and New Magic by Henry Ridgely Evans, he says that DeKolta married Alice Allen in London, on Dec 8th, 1887. But this is not correct. Alice Allen was an assistant in the show, but DeKolta had already married Ms. Mumford and remained married to her his entire life. Now, it is an understandable mistake. As it would appear that DeKolta was having a secret affair with Alice Allen, who would go by Lizzie. More on that later.

Buatier DeKolta claimed to have invented Modern Black Magic. This same principle was also claimed by Max Auzinger (likely the originator), and others. I think it’s likely another independent creation, though DeKolta’s does differ slightly from Auzinger’s principle. And I’m not going to say anymore on this one. If you’re a magician, you know the principle involved in this.

In The Old and New Magic by Henry Ridgely Evans, he says, “At the Eden Musee, in NYC, Dekolta introduced the large vanishing cage, which he intended as a satire on the flying cage because of the repeated suppositions that a bird was killed at each performance.” This was an illusion he called The Captive’s Flight. It clearly has some similarities to the Vanishing Lady. It began innocently enough with a large serving tray that was held out for inspection. This was then laid upon the stage. Next, Dekolta’s wife, dressed in a costume to look somewhat like a bird came out and knelt upon the small tray. DeKolta then covered her with a parrot’s cage and then in the original version, he covered the entire affair with a cloth and in a moment, whisked away the cloth and the bird woman and cage had vanished. Over time he would eliminate the cloth covering and add large playing cards which were connected by pieces of fabric. These would be placed all around the cage hiding it from view. Then DeKolta would attempt to lift the cage with the bird woman inside, and he would accidentally drop it where the cards would collapse and thus the bird woman and cage were gone!

The final illusion I want to share is an iconic effect known as the Expanding Die. In effect, the magician walked out on stage with a die (single dice) which was approx 6 inches square. He placed this upon a table where it suddenly grew to 50 inches square. Then the die was lifted to reveal a woman inside. It reads like a miracle. Was it? Not having seen it in action, I really don’t know. I expect the appearance of a woman inside was quite stunning. The actually expanding of the die, I don’t know. I do know how it worked. Without revealing anything, this thing was a beast! You’d have to be a genius just to figure out how to construct such a thing. 

If we take a look at the entire routine, it actually begins when he walks out. DeKolta is carrying a satchel, he claims the satchel contains his wife and that this form of travel cuts down on traveling expenses. He sets it down on a chair and then removes his hat and overcoat and proceeds to work his act. He presents a number of smaller effects before returning to the satchel. He reaches into the satchel and removes the small dice which he places upon a low table. He introduces a large japanese style fan and opens and attaches it to the back of the table. Then by waving his hand over the die, it instantly goes from it’s small size to the much large cube! Then, DeKolta and his assistant, pick up the die together revealing his wife underneath. Given a bit more context, it sure sounds amazing. The fact that it instantly increases in size is also revealing. This would be DeKolta’s final creation.

In 1902-03, Dekolta was back in America. He had appeared here in 1891, but now he had returned and brought with him his Expanding Die.  He began appearing in NYC at the Eden Musee in September 1902. He finished there 7 months later in April 1903. At this point he began a tour throughout the United States. In September of 1903 he was in New Orleans appearing at Orpheum Theatre. By all reports he was not feeling well during this week. The following week, he was extremely ill and still in New Orleans. Joseph Buatier died on October 7th, 1903. He had Bright’s disease, or what we know today as Kidney disease. He was only 55 years old but he was a heavy smoker and likely had a unhealthy diet. His body was taken back to England and buried.

Revealed in Genius Of Illusion, Lizzie Allen was 5 months pregnant when DeKolta died. He had been having romantic relations with her unknown to his wife Alice. But, at 5 months, she could no longer hide the fact.  On March 9, 1904, DeKolta’s daughter, whom he would never meet, was born. She was named Violet, but went by the name Vicky during her life.

Charles Morritt pointed out the fact that it was Dekolta who coined the term Illusionist, and was the first to use it. 

If you’re wondering how so many of DeKolta’s tricks were ripped off? Well it turns out he patented most of them. So unscrupulous magicians needed only to get copies of the patent papers, though, many had more devious techniques than that. 

That my friends is the story of Joseph Buatier DeKolta. 


The Old & New Magic by Henry Ridgely Evans
MAGIC A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre by David Price
Buatier DeKolta: Genius of Illusion by Peter Warlock
Mahatma Magazine Feb 1903 Edition
Tarbel Vol 2
and more

This article originally appeared as Episode 31 of The Magic Detective Podcast. This is the transcript of that podcast.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Magic Detective Blog In the Top 20

I was just looking over at Feedspot.com and found out that this blog is in the top 20 among all magic blogs. They first notified me a couple years ago that I had made it into the top 75. Very quickly, the site had moved to the top 50. It's now in the top 20, and it's possible it was higher than that at one point, but I've not been posting as often, so that can change the outcomes.  By the way, the podcast is ranked #4 on their podcast listings and I'm confident I can hit the top spot before too long.

The good news for this blog is, I'll be posting more often here at the blog. One of the first things I'm going to do is take the Feature Transcripts from the podcast and put them here on the blog. This way I can add photos, and links and other things that I cannot do when I'm just chatting on the podcast. And I can give a list of my research references.

You'll notice the previous article on the site is on Karl Germain. This is the first transcript from the podcast that I've added here. I've been able to include some photos as well as links. I did have a little bit of editing to do to make the article work on the blog, but that's to be expected.

You may also have noticed a new header on the site. This is to keep my Magic Detective Branding in check. There will be more changes in the coming weeks. And I expect to put more content on here that will not be used in the podcasts.

By the way, if you don't already do so, please consider following me on Instagram, at https://www.instagram.com/themagicdetective/

And on Facebook at, https://www.facebook.com/themagicdetective/

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Karl Germain The Wizard

Today I get to talk about one of my favorite magicians of all time. I became fascinated with this gentlemen when I first saw one of his breathtaking posters (see above). It was hanging in the American Museum of Magic years ago and I was awe struck. The poster was tall, a 3 sheet poster, with an image of a witch and black cat leaning over a fire. The smoke from the fire revealed an image of Germain who himself, was conjuring a spirit. And across the top of the poster the words, GERMAIN The Wizard. I read what little I could find on Germain in books, and then learned there were two biographies written on Germain, but a the time they were long out of print. When I finally was able to get a copy of them, I read them cover to cover. Germain truly seemed like a real wizard. I think you too will become fascinated by Germain just as I did, after reading this article. 

Our subject was born Charles Mattmueller on Feb 12, 1878 in Cleveland Ohio. Technically he should be Charles Mattmueller Jr. as his father was  also Charles Mattmueller. David Price’s book, MAGIC A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre, explains The name Karl came about during his school years when several other boys in his class also had the name Charles. The teacher decided this Charles would be called Karl. It must have pleased young Karl Mattmueller because he kept the name. 

He became interested in magic in his youth, but I’m not sure what the specific event was that peaked his curiosity. I have a feeling that his interest in magic came directly from his father, who had seen magicians in his native Germany and often told young Karl about the feats he had witnessed. Also, I know young Karl had a copy of Modern Magic by Professor Hoffmann which was given to him by his father when he was 14. At age 15, in 1893, he sketched out a design for a possible poster inside his copy of Modern Magic, on a blank page no doubt. His name in the design  is listed as Chas. Mattmueller. The following year he would create another sketch for a potential advertising piece but this time his name was listed as Karl Mattmueller-Magician. 

Young Karl’s early magic career, in fact, his entire magic career, would be a family affair. Census records from the time list his father as being a machinist and also working in the picture framing business. He was clearly a skilled craftsman. Karl’s father would make many of the props that Karl would use in his show. Another family member would be a regular part of Karl’s show and that was his sister Ida. She would act as assistant and would participate in his mind reading experiments. More on both of them later.

He would have several stage names before settling upon the best one. First he was Charles Mattmueller, then 
Karl Mattmueller, then for a time he went by the stage name Alexander, but upon being selected to perform for the Central Lyceum Bureau in 1899, he chose the name Germaine. Actually the chose the name GERMAIN without the ‘e’, but due to an error by a printing company, he became Germain with an e at the end. They didn’t have spellcheck back then sadly. 

Now before I can get into his magic, I must point out something that I read in several different articles and books on Germain. When describing his act, many people use the word ‘artistic.’ The first time I read it was in David Price’s book, and then I also saw it in The Annals of Conjuring book. In several magazine articles on Germain, they also use the word ‘artistic’ to describe him. On the surface it might seem that these various magic authors are simply being lazy and copying each other, which happens a lot in magic literature. But having looked over the material in Germain’s show, and seen photos of the incredible props, plus having seen a number of them in person, I can attest to the fact that ARTISTIC is probably the perfect word to describe Karl Germaine.

Beyond the look of his props, why do so many say Germain was artistic. I truly believe it was because he was highly creative, presented many of his own original creations. When he did regular magic routines, he always added something to the routine to make them unique to him. His patter was different from the standard performer of the time. Of course, he dressed immaculately, as did his on stage assistants. And this appears to be the case from the very start of his career right up to the end.

Germain’s bread and butter seems to be the Lyceum and Chautauqua circuits. As mentioned he began in 1899 and continued for several years. In the book, Germain the Wizard and His Legerdermain by Stuart Cramer, he shares the story of an event that took place in July of that year. The Germain company was onboard a train heading for their next destination. They were part of a larger troupe of performers. Germain was there with his sister Ida. Unknown to the passengers, a cargo train off in the distance was on the same track as the passenger train. No one knew, and the sudden realization did not prevent a disaster from happening. The two trains collided, sending various cars crashing, and some tipping off the tracks. The passenger car that Germain and his fellow performers were on, was further down the line but still suffered from the impact. The result was that their car came to an abrupt stop and tilted at an angle off the tracks. No one was hurt, though everyone was very shaken up. 

After helping other passengers out of the wrecked cars, Germain realized it would be impossible for him to make his show unless he made other arrangements. I’m not even sure how they pulled this off but they were able to get a buggy to take them and their luggage and equipment to another train and booked passage just in time to make it to their destination. They also made it in time to do give their performance!

Another story from the Germain The Wizard and His Legerdermain book, tells of Germain’s appearance at the Opera House in Wheeling WV. The company was unaware that the entire area had flooded, but the organizers met Germain at station with a raft to bring them to the theatre to do the show! Unreal. 

If you’re wondering what kind of magic Germain did, well, he was capable of doing most anything. He had primarily stage or platform style tricks, but he kept a number of very deceptive close-up tricks on him at all times. He also excelled at mentalism, which included his sister Ida. And one of the bigger surprises for me was to discover that Germain also presented illusion magic, as in Grand Illusion. At this time period, Grand Illusion was really in it’s infancy, but there were some truly marvelous creations that came out of this period. One early illusion was called The Mystery of Malabar. The thinking behind this routine was brilliant. The effect was a two sided platform which was set up in front of the audience. A top went onto this two sided platform and then a basket similar in style to that of the famed hindu basket effect was placed on top of this platform. You could see above, below, and to the sides of this platform. Next, Germain put on a robe and mask or beard and climbed into the basket. Only seconds later, walking down the aisle in the audience was Karl Germain. He vanished from the basket and in impossible time, appeared at the back of the theatre! He wouldn’t be the first or last to present this type of effect, but his method was quite clever. 

Each year Germain added new an amazing mysteries to his show. Let’s take a moment to examine some of his other unique effects…

The Block. This is an incredible effect with a crazy method but completely original. From the perspective of the audience, this is what they see. There is a block of wood, probably about 12 inches long and maybe 2.5 inches square. This is handed out for examination. In addition is a wooden board, 16 inches long, twelve inches wide, and a quarter inch thick, which is also given out for inspection. Germain then took the block and held it against the board and mysteriously it passed right through. He then pulled it back out, and placed the block at another position on the board at a different angle and once again, the block passed through the board. He repeated it a third time. To the audience it appeared he could push the block through the examined board at any spot and it would pass through, like a knife going through butter.  The image of Germain passing the block through the board is just crazy. In it’s most basic form, this is a penetration effect, and there are many of them in magic. What makes this one so diabolical is the fact that the items are handed out beforehand. Also their appearance is quite organic, meaning they don’t look like magic props but rather normal pieces of scrap wood. They also don’t appear to leave a hole in the board once the block is  passed through. Keep in mind, I do not reveal methods on this podcast, but trust me the method is wild. In the book, CONJURING by Jim Steinmeyer, he has two effects of his own creation that are inspired by Germain’s Block trick, if you are interested.

Another incredible Germain effect is his Butterfly. Again, this was one of the early Germain photos that totally had me intrigued. Keep in mind, this is totally original. Here is the effect: Germain would tell the audience he was about to produce a somethingness out of nothingness. And then he reached up and produced a 14 inch silk. He continued to do this again, and again until he had a dozen or so of varying colors. All of this was done to patter. The dozen silk scarves were then rolled into a sort of ‘cocoon’ and suddenly the bundle of fabric sprung open to reveal a very large butterfly with fluttering wings. I don’t know the actual size of the butterfly but in images it looks to be approximately 3 feet wide. Very large. Once it was produced it was handed off to an assistant who carried it away. Sadly, it almost seems that the better approach would have been to have it float or fly away on it’s own!

Flowers have figured prominently in the acts of many magicians. The Kellar Flower Growth is a wonderful routine where two planters of dirt, eventually sprout two large bushes of flowers. Kellars routine used several tables and two large metal cones which were first showed empty. I have mentioned this in previous podcasts, there is a video of Nickolas Night presenting the Kellar Flower Growth on Youtube, it’s a must see! Oh, and the technique that is used in this video is an improvement suggested by none other than Karl Germain!

Germain’s personal favorite routine was his own Flower Growth. This was the creation of Karl and his father. You see, according to the book Germain the Wizard by Stuart Cramer, Karl’s father had seen a magician in Germany do a similar trick and it always stuck in his brain. So now father and son went about creating a version of their own. In fact, Germain would create several different flower productions before working on the actual Flower Growth idea.   It went through various renditions until the final version, the ultimate one was finally realized. This is how it appeared to the audience. On stage sits a gold Louis the 14th Style side table. It is away from the curtain, and has a clear view above and below the table. On a second table sits an empty flower pot. Germain shows the empty flower pot and proceeds to fill it with dirt. He carries the now full flower pot to the other table and picks up a fan that was resting on the table. Without any covering, no tubes, no curtains, Germain simply waves the fan in the direction of the flower pot. Almost immediately a small tiny green sprout is seen. Germain then continues to wave the fan and move or dance around the table. Gradually, the tiny sprout blooms and gets larger. As Germain continues his fan dance, the plant grows higher and higher until the audience sees large roses on the table. The plant grows to a height of several feet. Germain then takes a pair of shears and cuts off some roses at their stems and passes them out the members of the audience, thus proving he has just made a LIVE rosebush grow right before their very eyes.  

I have been very fortunate to see the Germain Flower Growth prop LIVE in person. It resides in the collection of Ken Klosterman. It is a thing of beauty. The elder Mattmueller hand made this table, with ornate carvings on angels on each leg of the table. The method is diabolical, there was nothing like it when it came out. Many have said it was superior to Kellar’s Flower Growth, at least, that is what I’ve read in a couple books. I swear I saw a video of it being presented online, but now I can’t seem to locate it anywhere. There are three Germain Flower Growths that exist, one , as I mentioned is in Ken Klosterman’s collection, another other is in the collection of David Copperfield, and a third earlier version is in the collection of TELLER.

There is another effect of Germain's that is purely his, and that is his Egyptian Water Bowl Mystery. I recently wrote about it on this blog, so here is a link to that article.

Earlier I mentioned Ida Mattmuellar. This was Karl’s younger sister. She was born in 1880 and thus was 2 years younger than Karl. She provided the music in the show by playing the piano, and served as an assistant to Karl since his earliest days as a magician. In his first tour in 1899, she is listed on the brochure, along with her photogragh, as Ida Germain. She is also singled out as helping him in his ‘Telepathy’ Act. She continued in this role until Karl was offered the chance to perform in England. 

In June 1906, Germain set sail for England. He arrived 7 days later, after an awful sea voyage which left him sea-sick the entire time. But he recovered quick enough and was soon performing. He would tour all over England and Ireland. Eventually he ended up in London where he appeared at the New Bedford Palace Theatre. Germain was very popular in London, as was magic in general. Many of the greats of that era where in town the same time as Germain, folks like Chung Ling Too, Houdini, Lafayette and more. 
In 1907, Houdini and Karl Germain were both in England. Germain, happened to run into Houdini at a banquet and decided he wanted to amaze his friend. He then proceeded to present his favorite pocket trick, the term that was used then for close-up magic. The trick was called The Spirit Writing On Cigarette Paper.  The effect was a blank piece of paper was pinned to the end of a pencil. The spectator (HOUDINI) was asked to name someone, and the signature of that person appeared on the previously blank paper. Houdini watched like a hawk, but in the end was amazed by the presentation.

The highlight of his time abroad was working at St. George’s Hall for Maskeylne and Devant. He was there for a quite a long run. By December 1907, he was back home in Cleveland…..after another LONG sea-sick filled ocean voyage.

On Feb 26th, 1908, Germain’s friend Edward Maro passed away from Typhoid Fever. You can learn all about Maro by listening to podcast ep#11. Maro’s real name was Walter Truman Best, and his wife Allie was abruptly left a widow. Germain did not find out about the death until after Best had been buried.

Allie Best asked Germain for help in dispersing her husbands show props. Germain agreed and headed north to Maronook, on the shores of Lake Lelanau, in Michigan. While going through the various props. Germain naturally got first dibs on things he wanted. He came away with Maro’s Meteroic Ribbon effect, and he came away with a very famous piece that had once belonged to Charles Bertram. And he almost came away with Allie Best! Apparently, that relationship did not last. But let me backtrack to the Charles Bertram item. This was Bertram’s Spirit Lock, that no one knows how it ended up with Maro, but here it was in Maro’s collection. Germain apparently tried to purchase it while he was in England a few years before but was unable. And now it was his. And as he always did, he made it his by creating a unique routine. He told the story of Dr. Faust who was in prison, this lock held the prison door shut. He held up a picture of a lock and then held his fingers as if they were a key. A shadow was cast on the picture of his fingers and as the shadow entered the lock, he turned his hand and the real lock sprang open. 

Thanks to an article in the Dec 2005 issue of MAGIC magazine by Tim Moore, he said no one knew what Bertrams routine was, nor did they know what Maro’s routine was.  So here was Germain, making this clever trick his own by creating a mystical and memorable story. 

Curiously at the conclusion of his tour in 1909, Germain gave what he called ‘His Farewell Performance’ at Marktinka’s theatre in NYC. FAREWELL PERFORMANCE???? It seems rather abrupt, and premature to say the least. 

However, in only a few months an event would happen to make him want to leave the stage for good. On Jan 30th, 1910, Ida Mattmueller died from a tumor on her spine. She had been in declining health ever since he returned from England a few years before. But now, her death left a huge void in his life. He began to reassess his priorities. The lure of the road and stardom no longer appealed to him  . The reality of the road was that it could be brutal and miserable more than it was good. And as far as stardom, despite the constant demand for his shows, he had not achieved the kind of celebrity status like Kellar, Herrmann, or Houdini. 

It was time to look for a new profession, something that would keep him home, near his father, who was still alive and near friends and familiar surroundings. He was able to convince the president of Western Reserve Law School to allow him to attend classes, despite not having graduated high school nor ever attending college. What would happen to the show you might ask? Germain trained a new person to be Germain. Paul Fleming, who was an up and coming magician was chosen to take out the show and fill the many dates that were already booked. He would hit the road as Paul Germain. On the rare occasion Paul was unable to fill a date, Germain himself went out and presented it. He was not completely out of the magic world, but he was heading in that direction.

In 1914, Karl Germain became a lawyer and opened a practice in Cleveland. He dealt with probate law and had a partner in his practice. He intended to be out of magic at this point, and leave the performing to Paul Fleming. But for whatever reason, Germain couldn’t  leave magic alone. By 1916, he accepted another Chautauqua Tour. This one however, would prove to be the final tour for Germain. During the 2 month tour he was having issues with headaches and blurriness in his vision. He went to see a specialist who recomenneded he go to Boston to see another specialist. The verdict was a tumor in his brain pressing against the optic nerve. An operation was nessesarry or else he could go blind and mad. But the operation could also cause him to go blind. Germain agreed to the operation and when it was completed, he had zero vision. It turned out to be temporary to a point. He never regained his full vision. This predicament also caused him to leave his law firm and also put an end to show business. His father, would assist Karl for the remainder of his life, at least until he died in the 1940s. 

I’m not sure the date of this, but the story comes from Germain the Wizard by Stuart Cramer. In the story,
Houdini was in Cleveland performing and had contacted Germain about some curtains he had for sale. They worked out an agreeable price, but before settling on the deal, Houdini said he needed to see them hanging in the theatre to get a better idea of their condition and if they’d work for him. The curtains were hung and Houdini went on with his show. After the show, Germain was waiting in his dressed room and Houdini said he’d be happy to take the curtains but the offer was now half what had been agreed upon. Germain vanished for a bit and when Houdini went to look for him, he had departed, along with his curtains. The curtains eventually found their way in Paul Flemings show and today they hang in the mini-theatre in Ken Klosterman’s collection. And I’m assuming these are the plush green curtains that are there. Though for some reason I was thinking they were the black curtains that hung in Germain’s show.

In 1922, Germain decided to put together a talk/lecture on spiritualism. This was something he had been interested in his entire life. In fact, many of his shows featured a spirit cabinet, different versions, or other spirit effects. It was a perfect topic for Germain to talk on. But a tour never developed. It could be he didn’t have the name recognition that HOUDINI had and this made it near impossible for him to get hired to deliver the talk. Plus, his partial blindness was very apparent, so I can imagine that figured into people’s decisions not to go with his program.

 This remarkable man, who created so much original magic had been dealt a terrible blow with this partial blindness. But things would get worse. In 1938, while crossing an intersection, a truck ran into him. He survived the accident, but was left completely blind. 

There was one saving grace and that came in the form of a young amateur magician who befriended Karl Germain, his name was Stuart Cramer. If it had not been for Cramer, the final days of Germain would have been much worse. If it had not been for Cramer, we likely would know very little about Germain, other than what was little was written in magic magazines. 

As it was, Stuart Cramer was with Germain in the hospital in his final days and his final moments on his planet. Karl Germain Mattmuellar died on August 9th, 1959. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Cleveland Ohio. He was 81 when he died, and he lived with his blindness for 43 years, more years than he was full time magician. A sad ending for such an incredible performer.

I was surprised by one thing, the Mattmueller family plot, has all 4 Mattmuellars buried there. On Germain’s grave it has this on the tombstone, “Karl Germain Mattmuellar”, but on the fathers grave it has “Karl Mattmueller” as well. However, in Census records he is always listed as Charles. I can’t help but wonder now if his name was actually Karl, as this is a German name, and it was changed when he immigrated to the United States. It also stands to reason why his son, Charles, continued to use KARL throughout his life. And it also makes me wonder about the ‘school house’ story. 

Like his friend Edward Maro, Germain’s posters did not include the devilsh imps, which were standard for the time. Instead, much like Maro, he had mythical creatures like elves, fairies, witches and the like. It appears that Germain had one full color lithograph, it must have been printed sometime between 1899 and 1905, as the poster has the spelling of his name, G-E-R-M-A-I-N-E. His other posters all have a red/black color scheme, or red/black/white color scheme. And they are very striking posters. I am not sure, but the long poster with Germain conjuring the spirit, I have seen this poster in a reddish color, yellowish color, as well as orange. I’m not sure what the original color was, or if there were indeed several versions of different colors. Also, Stuart Cramer reveals in his book that a stash of posters was found in the attic of Germain’s home after he died and these included 1 sheet, 2 sheets, 3 sheets and 8 sheet posters. I have NEVER seen one of these 8 sheet posters, so I can only imagine what that was like. 

A final point I would like to make about Germain. I believe Germain may have given the very first TED Talk. If you don’t know what a TED Talk is, I suggest you look it up on google. On May 9, 1949, Germain spoke before SAM Assembly #10. He was at the home of magician John Grdina and unknown to Germain, Grdina made an audio recording of the presentation. So Germain’s trust had been betrayed, and when he later found out, he was quite livid. But for posterity sake, that recording still exists, and thankfully so. I have not heard the recording, but in the May 2002 issue of Genii Magazine, a transcript of that speech is featured. It’s a bit heavy, and frankly for an audience, probably even boring. But if you read the content you really should be enriched. The point of the talk was to be a true artist, you must be original, and to be original you must be yourself. So to present a trick, word for word, move for move is not art, but copying. And please, I know there have been countless debates on this very subject. But I’m talking about Germain’s opinion here, and I think he has the moral high ground when it comes to talking about originality. His point was not to change everything in a given routine, but to include yourself, your personality, your thoughts, your opinions in the routines. A great example of Germain taking a standard trick and adding himself was his approach to The Misers Dream. IF you are not familiar with the Misers Dream, you should listen to Podcast Ep#23 about T. Nelson Downs the man who revolutionized that trick. But suffice to say, many people perform the Misers Dream in much the same way. Germain added something that I just love. At the conclusion of his routine, after having pulled countless coins from the air and from other places, he turns all the coins into candy. The method can be found in the Stuart Cramer books, and it’s genius, and rather simple.

Another example would be Germain’s approach to The Kellar Flower Growth. He never presented this, but he recognized it could be stronger with one simple change. In Harry Kellar’s hands, this routine was a thing of pure beauty. How it looked when other performers presented it I do not know. But Germain suggested changing the table drapes to a mesh-like fabric, in this way the audience could see through them. And proof of the brilliance of this one simple change can be seen in the Nicholas Night performance on Youtube of Kellar’s Flower Growth!
I wish I had the ability to include Germain’s recorded speech here on the podcast. Maybe in the future, I can track down a copy and then get permission from whoever the owner is. I would LOVE to hear Germain speak of originality in his own voice. Wow. 

I wonder how many magicians in the past 100 years have had a similar approach? Off the top of my head, I’d say Slydini, Tommy Wonder, for pure originality. And as far as putting themselves into their magic, one only has to look as far as the top performers in the field, Henning, Copperfield, Siefried and Roy, Penn & Teller. Sure there are lots of others, but the point is, those performers were unique, and they were unique because they were themselves.

It may come as a surprise to many of you, that Karl Germain would not approve of this particular episode. He was very much against people writing or talking about him after his death. In fact, he was even against people writing about him after he retired but was still alive. 
He told Stuart Cramer that he would come back and HAUNT him if he dared write about him after his death. And Stuart wrote two books, The Secrets of Karl Germain in 1962 and Germain the Wizard and his Legerdermain in 1966. 
Paper Mache Bust of Germain (Klosterman Collection)

 This is the transcript from the Feature of Episode 25 of The Magic Detective Podcast. It has been slightly edited to conform to this format.

Research Materials for This Episode Included:

Stuart Cramer GERMAIN THE WIZARD by the Miracle Factory
David Price     MAGIC A Pictorial History of Conjurers in the Theatre
Prof. Hoffmann MODERN MAGIC
Sidney Clarke  The Annals of Conjuring
The Linking Ring Vol 40 #12
M-U-M Vol 104 #4
M-U-M Vol 204 #9
MAGIC Vol 15 #4
MAGIC Vol 24 #6
MAGIC Jan 1997 Conjuring Column